Shaping the future of Irish philanthropy


Éilis Murray


At the risk of being accused of bias, it is probably fair to say that Ireland is renowned worldwide for its culture and creativity. Think music, the arts, literature, sciences, and we can point to multiple examples which hold strong on the world stage.

But one area we continue to find challenging is the development of a philanthropic culture. Yes, we are a generous nation. The 2016 CAF World Giving Index ranked us at 9th in the world and second in Europe only to the UK.

Ireland does not have a strong tradition of philanthropic giving as evidenced for example by the comparatively small number of charitable trusts and foundations in the country, numbering less than 50.

While we have a rich tradition and culture of giving, we are very much spontaneous givers, reacting to a crisis or a call for support in time of need.

Despite the high level of participation in giving our level of giving tends to be low.

Relative to counterparts in other countries, Ireland’s wealthiest give less. The wealthiest 400 earners in Ireland account for around 10% of tax deducted giving – in UK or Germany the comparative figure is closer to 30%. Of those who do give significantly, much of it is done in private there being only a handful of high profile philanthropists. A key feature of the wealth in the country is that it first generation by nature.

So how do we plan to address these challenges? Philanthropy Ireland is a member and knowledge based organisation supporting the growth and development of the philanthropic sector. Our focus is on three key elements of activity – promotion, practice and policy.

Promotion of philanthropy underpins all our activity. We engage with key stakeholders, messaging on value and impact. Our key target audiences are High Net Worth Individuals (HNWI’s) and the corporate sector.

We facilitate and enable engagement for knowledge exchange through information dissemination, roundtable events and one to one support. We strive to address possible misconceptions with the broader public on the role of philanthropy through opinion and commentary pieces.

A vibrant philanthropic sector working in partnership and collaboration with government will maximise benefits to Irish society. The creation of a supportive infrastructural environment is critical for growth of the sector. Working with sector stakeholders and partners, we provide a representative voice for change based on research and understanding of need.

Recognising the need to give well, we support good practice in giving, providing member networking opportunities for information exchange and knowledge sharing. Participation in European Networks such as DAFNE, provides access to external resources and development supports.

Our engagement with the Global Philanthropy Research Project being undertaken by Hauser Institute for Civil Society Researchers at the Harvard Kennedy School has given opportunity for research and profiling of the landscape in Ireland, benchmarking against worldwide counterparts.

Philanthropy in Ireland is in its infancy. It is a small, young yet extremely productive sector. The majority of funds and organisations have only been set up in the last 25 years. There have been some major champions of Irish philanthropy over the last 10-20 years – The Atlantic Philanthropies, The One Foundation, The Ireland Funds, The Community Foundation for Ireland – to name some of the larger ones.

There is great opportunity ahead for the growth and development of philanthropy in Ireland and there is good reason to be optimistic for the future. Notwithstanding legacy issues from the recent recession we are once again in a period of economic growth.

There are indicators of increasing inquiries and engagement. In keeping with worldwide trends, for example, there is evidence of increasing interest in donor advised funds.

The real challenge is in converting the abundance of capacity to give into propensity to give significantly. Ireland can be innovative in approach, testing new models of philanthropy.

While we do not have a culture or tradition of grassroots philanthropy in Ireland, there is no reason why we cannot create our own model. This is what is at the heart of the work of Philanthropy Ireland.

Éilis Murray is CEO of Philanthropy Ireland.

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